High school radicalisation in Indonesia

May 5, 1999


By Danny Fairfax

Last July and August, high school students in Australia gained notoriety when 25,000 of them walked out of school against racism. In Indonesia, high school students are also organising. Alongside workers, peasants and the urban poor, students were at the centre of the huge demonstrations that overthrew Suharto last May. One of the seven people shot by the military in Yogyakarta during protests in November was a high school student.

While many high school students are radicalising across Indonesia, they have not formed a national organisation. The two major centres of high school radicalisation are Jakarta and Yogyakarta.


Jakarta has the largest number of organised high school students in Indonesia. There are three high school student political organisations, API (Flame), Spirit and Fire.

API and Spirit are politically moderate groups based in the middle-class areas in the west and north of Jakarta. Both organisations focus on school issues, and their main campaigns are against school fees and inter-school "wars". Neither group has a position on the June 7 elections, but individual members will be supporting Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party — Struggle and the National Mandate Party (PAN), a moderate Muslim party.

Fire is based in the inner city in the lower-class areas. It concentrates on stopping high school violence, for better conditions on high schools and against military involvement in parliament. Its members are involved in mass protest actions with university student groups, such as the national day of action on April 13.

Fire produces a fortnightly publication called Sekat (Voice of the Oppressed) and holds weekly meetings. It has not yet organised its own actions, but is planning one to raise consciousness among high school students about the repressive nature of the Habibie regime.

Fire does not have a position on the elections, although some of its members are also in the left-wing People's Democratic Party (PRD). They recognise that the elections are undemocratic and unfair, especially for high school students. At one school, a principal locked all students over voting age into the gymnasium until they had filled in PAN membership forms.


Yogyakarta, while small in population, is very much a student city with a number of top universities and senior high schools. Parents send their sons and daughters to Yogyakarta from all over Indonesia.

It is a centre of student radicalism, not just among university students, but also high school students. The main high school organisation there is the Revolutionary Student Movement (GELAR), which produces the newsletter GELAR Bicara.

GELAR has two campaign priorities: for democracy and social change in Indonesia and for high school student rights. GELAR has a strong relationship with the broader democracy movement and often participates in action committees with other organisations.

High school students' response to GELAR is usually enthusiastic, but GELAR members say it can be difficult to turn this enthusiasm into activism. Indonesia's education system makes it hard for high school students to be active in politics. Schools teach passivity and prohibit students from getting involved in politics.

GELAR hopes to overcome this by providing political education to students through GELAR Bicara and in out-of-school classes about the capitalist system.

[Danny Fairfax is a high school activist in Resistance.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.